The Indian Passport

Local trains
Cutting chai
BEST buses
pudhe sarka
Marine drive
Salty air
kanda pohe
Lalbagcha Raja
- my forsaken homeland

What is it about an Indian Passport that folk still hang on to it, even though their lives their lives and make their fortunes outside the borders of this country? Lakshmi Mittal hangs on to his, so does Amartya Sen, to quote two examples.

Lakshmi Mittal's story is rather well known - the Mittals moved to Indonesia when their small-scale steel venture was stifled by the license-quota raj of socialist India, and subsequently their Ispat group grew, grew, grew. Today his Mittal Steel is the world's largest steelmaker, embroiled in a controversy with trying to acquire Arcelor.

The Nobelled Amartya Sen was born in Shantiniketan and named personally by Rabindranath Tagore. Yet this gentleman chooses to stay away from this country, being a renowned economist in Cambridge and now Harvard.

Whatever motivates these men to retain the passport of a country that has hardly done them any good? It was after they became what they are now that India has recognised them as global Indians and moved to honour them. Sen has a Bharat Ratna, while the Indian Government has stood up for Mittal's business interests.

It isn't a particularly pretty passport, that they'd want to keep it. Nor do I think are the credentials of the government so pearly-white that they would harbour the most loyal feelings. Indeed the attitude of the Indian government to the Mittals has been anything but loyalty-inspiring.

I guess it has something to do with the sands of Marwar or the waters of Bengal. A passport can evoke the blazing sun, the crisp dry air, the chillies, the colours and the spirit of Marwar. Jahaan na jaaye bailgaadi, wahaan jaaye Marwari. It is this spirit that has taken them places. A passport can also evoke the chaos of Kolkata, the fishermen of the Hooghly, Rabindra-sangeet. The name India evokes homeland.

And that alone is the reason to hold on to that passport. Had Mittal not held it, and traded it for a British or Dutch passport, the allegations of racism would perhaps not have clouded the Arcelor deal. He may have been seen as greedy capitalist of the Anglo-Saxon persuasion. Similarly, the discontent over Sen's Nobel (many economists had wanted the prize to be given to another, more capitalism-friendly academic) might have not arisen had he been a British Asian or an Indian-American. Both chose instead, to be Indians.

I get a similar feeling with my birth certificate. Wherever I go, that yellowing scrap of paper marked by the municipality of Mumbai keeps a root firmly in the soil of the urbs prima in indis.

Next time an NRI comes home, and says all manner of things, you and I would probably squirm in our chairs. But as long as he holds an Indian passport and wants to hang on to it, as long the smell of his earth and hearth (what a turn of phrase!) stays in his heart, I'm not grudging him.

If I ever step out of my country hunting jobs and a future, a toy autorickshaw and my passport will serve as my umbilical cord with my soil.


suniti said…
Wonderfully written piece. I have a brother for past 35 yrs is hanging on to his Indian passport in the US.
I liked the list of attraction you have given at the beniginning of your piece. That's the stuff Bombaywallas are made of.
Sid said…
i can't give up my indian passport like these people.

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